“Whole-food, plant-based diets are suitable for all ages and have been linked to reduced risk of degenerative diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes, cancers, stroke, and hypertension.” – Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
We recommend reading “The Essentials of Vegan Nutrition and a Vegan Diet”, by Francoise Hebrard.
Essentials_of_Vegan_Nutrition_and_a_Vegan_Diet (PDF 282kb)
You could also purchase a copy of “The ABKs of Cooking“, by Samantha Jane, which has a great nutritional guide and vegan recipes to match. With the permission of the author, we’ve taken the essentials from her book.
Nothing beats a well-balanced, plant-based diet!
Protein is essential for the body to build and repair tissues, among other things. Proteins are made up of amino acids, of which there are 9 essential amino acids. These cannot be created in the body and must be consumed in our diet. Non-essential amino acids can be synthesised from other amino acids so you don’t need to be concerned about these.
“Complete proteins” contain all 9 essential amino acids. Animal proteins are complete, but we don’t need to get all of our essential amino acids from one protein source. And we don’t need to eat complete proteins everyday, just the complimentary sources over 2-3 days is sufficient. It’s good to mix and match my sources of proteins to not only create a balanced diet, but also to enjoy variety in flavour. We’ve listed some vegan complete protein combinations for you to try:
- Soy products – Soy protein is complete, so enjoy your tofu, soy milk, tempeh, and edamame, knowing you’re getting everything you need.
- Beans and Rice – It’s no accident that this pair is a classic staple around the world. Legumes and cereals complement each other to create a meal that offers more than just complete proteins.
- Hummus and Pita – Legumes and cereals, a love story that stands the test of time.
- Peanut butter sandwich – That’s right, this classic snack is a complete source of protein!
- Ezekiel Bread – A nutritious loaf made from sprouted grains, it has everything you need without the peanut butter.
- Buckwheat – Unlike what the name suggests, it’s not a type of wheat but a relative of the rhubarb family and its seeds are commonly used for gluten-free flour, soba noodles, or muesli.
- Quinoa – This is another seed that is less related to cereals and a closer relative of spinach. The seeds from this plant are what we eat in salads and vegan burger patties.
- Pumpkin seeds – Are we seeing a theme with seeds? This ‘on-the-go’ snack is also a great source of magnesium!
Iron + Vitamin C
Iron is important for transporting oxygen in the blood and it’s plentiful in plants. However it can be difficult for some people to absorb Iron. Including a source of vitamin C in your meals can increase your absorption of iron.
Sources of Iron
- Seaweed – Spirulina seaweed is not only very rich in iron, it contains nearly all of the essential amino acids.
- Seeds – Hemp, chia, buckwheat, quinoa, pumpkin… and the list goes on!
- Legumes – Soy, chickpeas, beans, lentils, and peas.
- Green vegetables – Popeye was right about spinach, but there’s just as much iron in other greens such as broccoli and kale.
- Nuts – Almonds, cashews, pine nuts etc.
- Wholegrains – Barley, corn, brown rice, wholemeal pasta.
- Dried fruits – apricots, sultanas, and dates.
Sources of Vitamin C
- Citrus fruits – Especially oranges and grapefruits.
- Capsicum – especially red.
Vitamin B12 is synthesised by many bacteria, including our gut bacteria. But it’s not enough to keep our nerves and brains healthy. We need to consume B12, and animal products are currently one of the few food sources proven to improve B12 levels in our bodies. There are many forms of B12 but few are “active”, and able to be used by our bodies. Active B12 can be hard to absorb, and can be even harder for scientists to measure in our food sources. There currently isn’t enough evidence to prove that any plants contain enough active B12 to keep our bodies healthy. So for now I can only recommend that you have regular blood tests to check your active B12 levels and take a sublingual or intramuscular supplement if needed. Even when I was eating meat my blood test results showed low B12 levels!
The other B vitamins are easy to get from plant sources. Some of these foods contain B12 but not reliably in its active form:
- Yeast extracts – Vegemite, Marmite, nutritional yeast.
- Whole Grains – Barley, millet, brown rice, buckwheat, quinoa.
- Legumes – Lentils, Beans, Soy.
- Seeds – Sunflower seeds.
- Nuts – Almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts.
- Vegetables – Mushrooms, spinach, asparagus, potatoes, broccoli, cabbage.
- Fruits – Dried fruits, avocados, bananas, oranges, berries.
- Seaweeds – Chlorella, Spirulina.
Calcium + Vitamins D & K
Calcium is just one of several minerals necessary to maintain bone health. People on a vegan diet are no more susceptible to osteoporosis and poor bone density than those who consume dairy. Because most of us, vegans included, get enough calcium from our diet, and we could be lacking in either Vitamin D, K, or B12.
Our skin makes all the vitamin D we need with just 30 minutes of sunshine 3 times a week! Exercise is also a major contributor to bone health. Outdoor activities can be an efficient way to both exercise and get a healthy dose of sunshine. While, coincidentally, leafy greens are a great source of both calcium and vitamin K. Some other great sources of calcium:
- Fortified Soy Milk – Most soy milks are fortified with calcium.
- Fortified Tofu – Some tofu products are set with calcium.
- Green vegetables – Kale, asian greens, okra, collard greens.
- Nuts – Almonds, hazelnuts, and brazil nuts.
- Seeds – Chia, sesame, and poppy.
- Seaweed – Spirulina, and kelp.
- Beans – Soybeans, pinto beans, and chickpeas.
- Dried Fruit – Goji berries, figs, and raisins.
- Herbs – By weight basil, sage, marjoram, rosemary, spearmint, and cinnamon top the list of calcium content!
There are 3 types of Omega-3; ALA, EPA, and DHA. These fatty acids are necessary for cardiovascular and brain health. ALA is an essential fatty acid, we can’t make it in our bodies, and need to consume it in our food. ALA can be converted into both EPA and DHA, though not efficiently. These fatty acids can be found in high concentrations in seafood, and vegan supplements are often made from seaweed. So it is recommended that vegans and vegetarians take an EPA + DHA supplement.
Sources of ALA Omega-3
- Chia seeds – The best plant source of ALA.
- Hemp seeds.
- Flax seeds.
- Soy products – Edamame, soybean oil.
- Kidney beans.